the guardian Fri 25 July 2008
Rose Tremain tackles the uncomfortable subject of economic migrancy in this year's Orange Prize winner. Lev is 43 and from a small village in eastern Europe. He is recently widowed, and the sawmill that employed him has closed. He travels to London to seek work, leaving behind daughter Maya, his mother and his outlandish, irrepressible best friend Rudi. London is teeming, sarcastic, inhospitable; Lev's English is basic. Soon he is sleeping rough, until Lydia, a sophisticated travelling companion from the journey over, sets him up with a job washing dishes in a gourmet restaurant and a room in Tufnell Park. Soon he becomes infatuated with Sophie, a fellow worker. In a novel at once rich and strange, we follow Lev's agonising progress through exploitation, random kindness and continuing grief at the loss of his young wife. Deep friendship with fellow outsiders, and the glimmerings of a new career, are no compensation for being poor and exiled, a status which Tremain highlights with persistence and compassion.